I think we’re here. I think it’s time. I think we’ve grown up, tuned in, changed perceptions and revolutionized. I think it’s time for us, as viewers and creators, to be able to watch and make a web series that’s longer than 7 minutes.
Here’s the thing.
I think the short-form content thing is a product of how this whole thing started, which is — before video hosting sites could support high-quality video and before people started watching actual television online. Then, it made sense. This was the YouTube stage, when we had to get people’s attention and get them used to watching actual entertainment on their computer, and so, we started them off with a small dose (sketch comedy, kittens), then, when they were hooked, slowly increased their hit (Break a Leg, The Burg, Same Has 7 Friends, We Need Girlfriends, The Guild, etc.), and now… well, we’re in the same place.
For the last three years.
While people are watching more TV online, while Hulu is gaining popularity with a mainstream audience, we continue to make videos as if our viewership is still watching them through grain-filled goggles, as if their connections still can’t support high-quality video, as if every sign wasn’t pointing to web TV growing at crazy rates.
But Yuri, you say, stats show that people stop watching at around the 5-7 minute mark. This drives me a little batty. First of all, correlation does not mean causation. That is, just because people stop watching at the 5 minute mark, doesn’t mean that the reason they stop watching at the 5 minute mark is because they only have patience for five minute content on the internet. It could be that they don’t really like the series. Hell, it could be that the series is just plain ol’ bad.
If I had to bet a ruble, I would say that TV has the exact same issue. I’m sure people tune out at the 5-7 minute mark when they’re not into a show. TV is just as ADD as the Internet — why is clicking to another tab easier than pressing “up” on your remote control? Why do we keep insisting that it’s harder to get into our “style” of entertainment? It isn’t. Hell, if anything, it’s a little easier.
The other thing is — the sample size isn’t big enough to make such strong, blanket statements as “no one watches long-form content” because, frankly, there aren’t that many great shows.
Oh, it’s gotten MUCH better. I once wrote a blog about the death of the web series, using, admittedly, hyperbole to suggest that we needed much higher-quality content if we were to compete against TV and if this thing was to survive and flourish. I arrogantly think I was proven right after Bannen Way and a few other shows popped up, showing us that we seriously had to raise our game to actually get funded. And we did. Web shows are getting significantly better.
But, like with all entertainment, there’s a lot of bad in the good. The problem with allowing everyone who has a camera to make a show means that the majority of those shows won’t be very good. That’s just the nature of the beast, and that’s fine. The main issue is that it pollutes the sample size and gets people to say strong, generic statements like, “Nobody watches web shows that are longer than 7 minutes.”
All that aside, I think the short length hurts the growth of our industry. I think regular viewers see a 7 minute series and think, “Eh, it’s just a web show.” There’s a negative connotation there and I think, honestly, a mainstream audience that’s used to watching longer content on television would find it easier to watch something of a similar length online. It’s habitual. They’re used to stories being told in those lengths. Yes, those are limits made by TV because of ads, etc., but you know what? We’re still growing, and if we can use some of the habits formed by TV to get viewers to start watching independent content, then great. We can start pushing them out of their comfort zones when they’re hooked on our worlds.
I recently did a poll on Facebook and asked: ”Would you be more inclined to watch a high-quality, extremely well-shot, -scripted, and -acted web series if it was longer (22 mins)? Or shorter (7 mins)?”
The majority of respondents said 22 minutes. A few even added “60 minutes” as an option. Only 8 chose the shorter version. This isn’t proof of anything — I’m not suggesting I’m a statistician by any means — but it does suggest that the average, mainstream viewer (which most of my friends are — there’s hardly a web show watcher among them) is ready for longer content online.
They just need someone to make them something good online.
I think we’ve all done amazing things with the current length constraints. I think people are getting good at it and I think we’re squeezing every ounce of story, character, plot and all else out of those minutes. I think we can still do better. I think we’ve still got to keep raising our game. But I do think that we’re ready to take our shows to the next level.
So, here’s what I think we should do.
To those creators who are venturing forth to create their own series on their own buck — here’s a challenge for you. Make a 22 minute series. Start changing perceptions. We need trailblazers and it ain’t easy being one, but, well, we need you. I know it’s hard. But for the people who ask us how we’ve managed to survive and make money in this space for over 7 years — we started by making a relatively good 22 minute series. I’m just saying.
To those creators who have a proven track record and budgets — start pitching longer content. We’re trying — I’m not sure if it’s working yet, but eventually someone will take a risk. The more established creators do it, the more the people with money will start listening — we ARE the professionals here, right? We’re the ones who gave birth to this space, let’s keep maturing it.
To the brands, agencies, agents, networks and everyone else who has money and is looking to make a splash on the market — I know it’s scary and I know this isn’t exactly the best time for it but, won’t somebody, anybody take a risk?
Our quality is there, our talent is there, our drive is there, so let’s stop giving ourselves time constraints and continue pushing that envelope.
I think we’re ready… and I’ m the guy who said the web series is dying.